New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 30, 2011.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 30, 2011. Evan Vucci/AP
What people in New Jersey like about Gov. Chris Christie is his candor — the sense that he's speaking from his heart, instead of a script.
Last summer, as Hurricane Irene barreled toward the Jersey shore, the Republican governor offered a particularly memorable moment during a press conference: "Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out," he said. "You're done. It's 4:30. You've maximized your tan. Get off the beach."
Christie, 49, has a reputation for saying what's on his mind, even if it's going to offend some of his constituents. It's a style he's deployed at town hall meetings across New Jersey, where he takes questions, often for more than an hour.
The state's largest teachers' union is a favorite target.
"Has any of your children come home and said to you, 'Mom, Dad, please, just pay for my teacher's health benefits and I'll get A's. I swear!'?" Christie asked at a 2010 meeting in Gloucester Township. "Now you're all laughing, right? This is the crap I have to hear."
A New Way Of Talking
To supporters of Christie, who's being mentioned as a long-shot choice to be Mitt Romney's running mate, this is a whole new way of doing business.
"He's changed the nature of how politicians can speak in the United States," says Republican Jon Bramnick, the minority leader in the New Jersey state assembly. "He's taken issues where politicians have hedged their bets. And he's made it OK to be very direct."
It seems to be working for Christie. He's a relatively popular Republican governor in a state where Democrats have a comfortable registration advantage.
But sometimes, Christie's fiery rhetoric can convey a sense that he's not totally in control of his temper. That's the impression his critics took from a heated confrontation on a coastal boardwalk a few weeks ago between Christie and a local resident who had offended him.
"You're a real big shot! You're a real big shot!" Christie can be heard shouting in the incident, which was captured on video and posted online.
Monmouth University political scientist Patrick Murray says that confrontation — and others from some of Christie's recent town hall meetings — may not be great for his image.
"These moments may come back to bite him because in the past, it was written off [as], this is Chris Christie being Chris Christie. Now there are some thoughts that, has this gotten away from him?" says Murray. "Has he lost control of his ability to use those 'Christie moments' — those YouTube moments — to his advantage?"
'Rock Star Of The Party'
That's the kind of thing that might scare Romney's camp away from tapping Christie as a running mate. But Murray thinks there's a more fundamental reason that Christie is unlikely to be Romney's vice presidential choice.
"He's the rock star of the party," says Murray. "And that actually will be another concern for Mitt Romney, because you don't want the No. 2 to be getting more attention than the No. 1 in a ticket. And that's a potential with Chris Christie."
Christie flirted with seeking the presidential nomination himself before deciding against it. Even Christie has admitted he's not an orthodox choice to be No. 2 — as he did during a visit to a high school history class earlier this year.
"Do I really look like the vice presidential type?" Christie asked. "Sitting behind [the president] at the State of the Union" and clapping? "I don't think that's me. So, I think it's unlikely."
Christie seems more likely to be tapped as the keynote speaker at next month's Republican National Convention. Rumors to that effect have been swirling since last week, and Murray thinks that's a natural fit.
"That's a slam dunk. And I'd be surprised if it turned it out it wasn't him," says Murray. "We ask people whether they think he would be a good keynote speaker, and even Democrats grudgingly admit that that's a good choice for him."
The keynote speaking engagement would all but guarantee that the first-term governor is not going to be the party's vice presidential nominee. But it would be an excellent springboard for 2016.
Wednesday, Christie was asked if he might be interested in running for president next time around, if Romney loses. Christie replied: "I don't think I'd back away from it."